Last weekend I made my annual trip to the frozen North to once again compete in the Strathpuffer 24. What usually awaits is 17 hours of darkness and conditions which vary every year from wet, to mud, to snow, to ice; but what’s always guaranteed is that it’ll be a challenge. This year I was once again competing in the pairs with my pal Liam, our goal was to get in 24 laps of the course in, and mine was to beat my previous PR of 12 laps.
In the queue waiting to get access to the forest at Strathpeffer we met up with the rest of the GMBC contingent, namely a quad made of Julie and Bosco along with Steven Owens and Campbell Davidson. Camps were set up on the fire road into the forest and we settled in for the night with a few beers and plenty of food.
The race itself started at 10am in freezing fog, but climbing on the first lap took you up and out and into the sunshine. The ground was hard and lap times were pretty quick, the downhill finish had also been resurfaced since last year so the misery of pedalling through 8” deep mud to complete each lap had also gone. Conditions remained like this for most of the day as we completed lap after lap. Once darkness fell though, so did the temperature (it got down to between -4 and -6 oC) and ice started appearing everywhere. After an impromptu visit into a tree and a moment on a fast decent where my back wheel overtook my front I decided to slow down and take things easier, I needed to finish this in one piece! Everything froze, water bottles, legs, fingers, gears, and the most valuable tool I used was a rubber mallet to bang the extra kilos of ice off the bike. Keeping the bike in working order was difficult but Keith McLellan had given me a tip last year to clean and lube the drivetrain and clean the pads as often as possible, this worked a treat although water just froze as soon as it hit the bike.
Keeping going through the night is always a tough one but passing the GMBC quads pit/camp each time they always encouraged us on. It was pretty clear they were in a close race and challenging for the podium.
Morning arrived and we got to see what we’d been cycling through all night, the sheet ice became a bit more visible as was the finish. At 1025 Liam came around the last set of bends to complete our pair’s 25th lap, we’d completed our goal and I’d churned out 14 laps too; we’d finished 20th out of 84 pairs, not bad for a couple of old blokes. Also at the finish were Julie, Steven, Campbell and Bosco who’d just finished, winning the Mixed Quads by half an hour after each completing 8 laps for a fantastic total of 32 laps, well done guys!
Packing up and getting home is probably the hardest part, but a few coffee and food stops along the way down the A9 at Newtonmore and Perth got us back in one piece. The washing and bike maintenance can wait for another day. Thanks to everyone involved in the organisation, the marshal’s who braved the cold for the whole race and our fellow competitors who kept us all company through the night.
Words: Ian Godber Photos: Gary Williamson, Ronan Dugan, Ian Godber